New York – Recent, recurring voting machine breakdowns, as well as the failure to catch them and ensure that solutions are publicized widely, shows the need for a national, searchable database to collect and disseminate information on system defects, a new Brennan Center study finds.
Ten years after the Florida election debacle of 2000 and eight years after the passage of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), the government has invested billions on new voting equipment; still voting machine malfunctions – and resulting lost votes – persist every election cycle.
Voting System Failures: The Database Solution offers a straightforward and important solution.
“Bottom line: lost votes damage public confidence in the electoral system. We’ve seen that this is a persistent problem – that voting systems fail in one jurisdiction, go unreported, then pop up in a different locale or another election. Too often, voting system vendors have failed to provide election officials and the public with timely notice of a system failure or vulnerability, or have immediately blamed election officials for the problems rather than conduct a thorough investigation,” said Lawrence Norden, author of the report and attorney at the Brennan Center for Justice.
“One way to ensure that voting system defects are caught early and that election officials in affected jurisdictions are alerted quickly is to mandate that voting system vendors report defects and workarounds to a national, searchable database that election officials and others can use to identify potential issues with their systems before every election.”
Unlike makers of other commercial products, voting machine manufacturers are not obligated to report malfunctions to any government agency. And election officials and the public are often totally reliant on the private companies that sell and service the equipment to voluntarily keep them aware of potential problems.
The Brennan Center’s proposed remedy is a new regulatory system that centers on a national clearinghouse for voting system problems.
The report offers three key recommendations to ensure that we have an effective clearinghouse for our voting systems:
- Creating a publicly available, searchable database;
- Mandating rules for when the voting manufacturers must report to the database; and
- Vesting a federal agency with investigatory and enforcement powers to ensure vendors report to the database and take appropriate action to fix problems throughout the nation once they are found.
The Brennan Center eviewed hundreds of voting system failures, offers a comprehensive appendix, and analyzed fourteen cases where malfunctions resulted in the temporary or permanent miscount or loss of votes. In each of these instances, better oversight or reporting requirements would have prevented these problems.
Among the report’s interim, short-term solutions are the following:
- States and counties should demand (through contract and regulation) that vendors report all potential problems and vulnerabilities with their systems, wherever they are discovered;
- The creation of a “voluntary” searchable, national database, to which both election officials, vendors and voters are encouraged to report;
- Election officials and others should pressure vendors to voluntarily post all information about system defects and workarounds on their own sites this year.
The California legislature has passed legislation requiring vendors selling systems within its borders to notify the Secretary of State and all local election officials using its systems of any “defect, fault or failure” within 30 days of discovery. As we release this report, the legislature is awaiting the Governor’s decision to sign this bill into law. Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar bill last year; particularly in light of our findings, the Brennan Center urges him to sign it this time.
For more information on the report, please contact Jeanine Plant-Chirlin at email@example.com or at 646–292–8322.